Posted Friday, September 11, 2020 by Team Northwoods

The Cost of Doing Nothing: How Inaction Can Hurt Human Services

Convincing administrators, board members, legislators, and general stakeholders that your human services agency needs to purchase new technology is hard, no matter how essential. You’re up against several roadblocks—finite budgets, shrinking revenues, and competing priorities, to name a few.

How can you make a compelling case to get support and overcome these roadblocks?

The key is demonstrating why you simply can’t afford to wait any longer to put these tools in workers’ hands. You can lay a strong foundation for your story by calculating the costs—in terms of dollars, time, and opportunities lost—if your agency puts off investing in essential technology.

divider-footerConsider the following themes and associated questions/costs to give you an idea of what’s at stake if you simply maintain the status quo:

Staff. How much higher than recommended are your workers’ caseloads? How much overtime or comp time do you have to issue to keep up? What is your turnover rate for frontline/direct service staff? What’s the burden on workers who remain? What are the expenses associated with recruiting, hiring, training, and assigning a full caseload to new workers?Buyers Guide Caculator

Daily operations. How much time or work is currently required per case? How much of that time is spent on administrative tasks (e.g., resubmitting verification documents, filling out redundant forms, or transcribing case notes) that could be repurposed for high-value work?

Timeliness and accuracy. What is the average length of time to close or transfer a child welfare case at each level (e.g., investigation, in-home, foster care, etc.)? What is the typical turnaround for your SNAP/TANF or Medicaid applications? Are you satisfied with those numbers? Are your determinations accurate so that benefits are issued appropriately?

Agency resources. What is the cost of continuing to rely on paper-based business processes (e.g., storage space, paper/printing costs, postage, etc.)? How much of this cost stems from duplicating efforts, like making multiple copies of one form?

Buyers Guide Bullseye

Maintenance and support. What’s the total cost of ownership for your current system? How much will those costs increase over time to continue supporting the system as it becomes obsolete?

Community well-being. What costs are associated with disrupting the services provided to a child or family as a result of transferring a case or needing to file for a continuance in court? What about delaying necessary supportive services to single mothers as they look for work? What is the cost to community partners or providers associated with the delay in obtaining these services? How overburdened is the foster care system as kids have to stay in care longer?

Compliance. What additional liability (e.g., fines, improvement plans, or lawsuits) is your agency taking on if you maintain outdated practices? What’s the burden on taxpayers? What’s the long-term cost of losing trust and support from the community you’re serving?


There will never be a perfect time to launch a new initiative, implement a new technology, or turn a big idea into actionable results. But, the longer it takes to get something in place, the longer vulnerable clients are missing out on the safety, stability, and well-being they deserve.

Not to mention inaction will result in much more expensive and complex problems that will be forced on your agency in the future if you don’t take proactive steps now.

We know there is perceived risk in choosing to spend money on technology. But, as these examples demonstrate, the risk and cost of doing nothing may be even greater.


This blog post is an excerpt from our new resource, “Technology Toolkit: An Essential Buyer’s Guide for Human Services." Download the full human services technology buyer's guide to learn more about building a successful business case, getting support from key stakeholders, and setting up your agency up for continued success.


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